Her father was dead. He had given his life so that others might live, but that did not make missing him any easier.
Xiong "Wendy" Cheng sat with tears streaming down her cheeks. She was surrounded by her late father's cherished rock garden behind Fu Leng's Laundry & Tailoring. Today was the last day she would ever come back here; the Jeweler's offer had just been too good.
Her father would be buried in a few hours and she would be moved into a small house on the other side of town by nightfall. As much as she wanted to stay and live in this place, she had offered to work full time for Nate Hunter and the Sheriff's Department. Plus, she really had no desire to spend her life as a laundress.
As she riffled through her father's landscape paintings, she started crying anew. The crinkling of the rice paper drowned out the sound of the light footsteps of someone walking through the closed laundry. "Hello?" a young woman's voice asked.
Recognizing the voice, Wendy did her best to compose herself before she looked up. "Hi Jenny."
Jenny Cooper suddenly realized this might be a bad time, as she saw her friend's puffy cheeks and bloodshot eyes. "Hey, I'm sorry if I disturbed you. I can visit you another time, if you'd prefer."
"No, it's okay. I have things to do to prepare for later. I was just trying to come to grips with all of my life's sudden changes." Wendy wiped at her eyes and placed the paintings back in the crate with the other sentimental items of her father's she planned to keep. "What can I do for you?"
Jenny felt a little better seeing the same brave face she had gotten used to from Wendy. She hugged her friend when Wendy stood up. "Well, first, I wanted see if you needed any help, and I wanted some advice."
"Well I could use some help packing up a crate of old clothes and dishes that I was planning to donate to Miss Singleton and the orphanage. Can you help me out with that?"
"I can try." Jenny offered.
"As for the advice I can give you lots, I just can't promise it will be sound" She said, startling her self with how much that sounded like something her father would have said to her. As they walked back inside Fu Leng's, Wendy realized the "little girl" strolling next to her was quickly becoming a young woman. She thought back to when she was the same age. Whenever she went to an older girl for advice, it was for one of two reasons, and Wendy was pretty sure which it was in this case. "So who's the lucky boy?"
Jenny blushed, but she did not answer.Wendy started Jenny packing up, while she attended to her father's Coffin in the main room. She arranged the coffin's accessories for the Funeral procession. For a while they worked in silence, then quite suddenly, Jenny said, "It's Timmy."
There was a twinkle in Wendy's eye. "Timmy Derrick?"
"Well, other then what he did to Bob Bidwell, he seems like a fine boy."
Jenny blushed. "I think he likes me too."
"Really?" Wendy asked. "What signs has he given you?"
"Well, back at the orphanage, he used to pull my hair and stuff. Now that I don't see him as much, whenever he's around he smiles and wants to talk to me." Jenny blushed again.
"Sounds like he misses having you around."
"That's how it seems to me."
The two continued working, occasionally chit-chatting about this or that. After a while, a knock came from the doorframe. Wendy stood, dropping her hand to her holster. As recognition sank in, her stone face melted. "Hello, Sheriff."
"Hello, Wendy. I see you have recruited some help," Nate Hunter said, nodding towards Jenny.
"Yes, she has." Jenny said as she stood up. "I think this is ready to go, Wendy."
"Thank you for your help. Could you take it to Miss Singleton?" Wendy responded.
"Of course I can," Jenny said. She picked up the crate and exited the room.A few moments passed as Wendy felt like a little girl with her head down looking at her feet. Finally, Nate spoke up.
"I know how hard this must all be for you, Xiong."
"He's always been there for me, Nate. Even when I let him down. Even when I knew I didn't deserve for him to be there for me, he was. But now he's gone. And I can't even do anything about it. I feel like I failed him." Wendy began to cry again. Nate took Wendy into his arms.
"I liked your Dad from the first day I met him. He was a calm and sincere man, and those are very important qualities in a person. Sometimes you are just like him. Sometimes you're not. The point is that he was proud of you. He was always proud of you and, every time you succeeded at something, he shared in your success as well. He succeeded because he knew that even though you and he are different, he raised youright. He helped make you a good person."
Wendy cried into Nate's shoulder. "Everything will turn out okay," Nate said as he held his young friend.
"I just wish I could get my hands on those inbred murderers so I could show them what it feels like."
"Killing them won't bring your father back, Wendy. When Corky died, I was brooding and looking for revenge." Nate paused, expecting some kind of counter remark. None came, so he continued. "I let it control me. I let my desire for vengeance and my bitterness towards Jackson control me. And all it did was send me off the trail of the real evil that was right under my nose."
Wendy stopped crying and composed herself. She moved from Nate's arms and walked over to the crate of her father's belongings that she was keeping. She pulled out a painting and handed it to Nate. "I think he would have wanted you to have this." Nate looked at the work of art. It was of the sheriff's office, and a figure that looked a lot like Nate stood in front. At the bottom were some Chinese letters and their English translation: "Sheriff Hunter - A Man of Honor" Now it was Nate's turn to hold back tears.
Wendy looked at the note again. "Wendy, I know you are busy, but I would like to see you before the funeral. Please head over to the Fat Chance when you have time. Charlie Landers"
Wendy looked at the door of the Fat Chance she knew it would be crowded, it always was at this time of day. Plus, she wasn't supposed to leave the bodies side until the funeral began. It was just another stupid custom, but it was one often thought to be important.Wendy looked around. a small crowd today. Bob Bidwell in the corner nursing a beer and his eye. Clell Miller and Doctor Duvalier shooting a game of sticks. A hand of poker between a few men, only a couple of them who she recognized.As she walked down the bar to where Charlie was washing glasses, her instincts took over, and she unconiucsly listened to what people were saying. Clell was talking about how one of these days he was gonna show that yella varmit Bob Bidwell a thing or two about having a spine. Some of the poker players were complaining about Rachel Sumner and how she has a lot to atone for wishing that some of the Deputies would find her before she could hurt anyone else. Wendy agreed. Some others were drinking and discussing old friends who they hadn't seen in ages, a few names were mentioned, some that Wendy knew like Alfred Barkum Sr. and Nash Bilton. That stopped Wendy's eavesdropping and made her start thinking, what had happened to Nash after he lost the election? She knew he briefly worked for Sweetrock, but where'd he go after that?
She suddenly had no time left for contemplation. "Wendy Cheng, over here. I see you got my note." Charlie said, catching Wendy off guard.
"Yes I did Charlie." Wendy sat down across the bar, so she could talk to him.
"I'm glad. I wanted to talk to you." Charlie paused. "Can I getcha something to drink?"
"I could drink a lemonade, if you don't mind."
Charlie got a glass for her, "No problem."
She sipped her lemonade. "Thank you."
"I don't know if you knew this, but your father and I were friends. Ever since he got here." Charlie wiped glasses off nervously with his claw hand wrapped in a towel. "And I figure I knew him pretty well. Well, as well as can be expected. And I want you to know that I told him once that if anything ever happened to him, I'd keep my eye on you for him. Make sure you stayed outta trouble and the like. It's not like Deputy Wendy Cheng needs anyone to do that now and days. But I know how hard all this must be on you, and I want you to know, open or closed, the door's always open for you if you want to talk."
Wendy looked at Charlie like a little girl looks at a favorite uncle. "That's a very nice thing for you to say, and I may just take you up on that offer."
"Well I just figured you may need someone to talk to."
" I do. I do a lot. And it was always my father who I talked to, but it's nice to know that there's someone who is willing to listen."
"Anytime you have something to talk about, I'll listen."
"Thank you, Charlie." Wendy reached out and took Charlie's claw hand into her's. She removed the towel and kissed the back of his hand. Charlie blushed and pulled his hand back. "You are a very kind man." Wendy smiled at him. "But I have a great deal to do still. Will you be attending the funeral?"
"Of course. As I said, T.C. and I were friends."
"Then I will see you then." Wendy stood up. She thanked Charlie again as he let her out.
Wendy walked down the street until she came to the Sheriff's office. She walked inside and over to Nate's vacant desk. She pinned up another of her father's paintings on the wall under Coleman's badge. The painting depicted J.P. arresting Max Baine. At the bottom the caption read in both Chinese and English "J.P. Coleman, a company man no longer".
As Wendy was leaving, she saw a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph and stopped to check out the Headline. "Bill Jefferson, Banker's Son Inherits Fortune." The picture accompanying the article showed Jefferson in the foreground, with several of his business associates in the background. To Wendy's mild surprise, one of them was her former co-worker, Nash Bilton.
It was evening, and Wendy watched the last of her crates being carried into her new home. "Thanks again for all that you did today, guys."
"No problem." Dave Montreal replied. "I was proud to be a part of your father's funeral." Dave handed her a white lily.
"What's this for?" she asked, a bit startled.
"I found it on the porch when I was carrying stuff in," Dave said.
"You should head back to the office and relieve Jenny and William. They're waiting." Nate interjected.
"Yes, sir." Dave said, as he left. "Have a good night Wendy."
"It was a beautiful service, Wendy, and I think your father would have been proud of how you combined Chinese customs with American. He always wanted you to know the best of both societies."
"It was very nice of you to volunteer to help carry the coffin," Wendy said.
"It was a very nice funeral procession, I am proud to have done my part to honor your father's memory."
"Thank you Nate."
"If there's anything I can do for you, just let me know." Nate Hunter nodded towards Wendy, turned and left, placing his hat on as soon as he made it out the door.
After Nate was out the door, Wendy patted the pistol at her hip. "I'm doing my best Corky, and so's he." Wendy said quietly to the pistol. Wendy spent the next 20 or so minutes shuffling crates around, but decided she couldn't concentrate on unpacking. She looked around, turned and walked out. She walked for a while. Trying to find a way to relax. But her mind kept wandering and then she got a horrifying vision. Her father, Tao Cheng, as a "second chance joey."
She wasn't sure how she got there, or how long it had been, but she stopped sobbing and realized she was curled up on a large rock in her father's rock garden. She looked down and saw a letter she must have missed. She wiped her eyes, and picked up the letter. She read it calmly.
The letter was dated only a week or so ago. It was addressed to her father from his old friend Chiang Shen. He asked how T.C. was. Wendy knew she would have to write him back to alert him to her father's passing, but she would also have to tell him that she decided not to send the body back, to keep it here, so she and her possible family could have his spirit near. He wouldn't like that very much and she knew it. Wendy needed someone to talk to. She left the rock garden, went down the street, rounded the corner and approached The Fat Chance.
The tombstone read: "Tao Cheng, 'There are two perfect men; one dead, and the other unborn.' 1839 - 1877 R.I.P."
A shadowy figure stood at the edge of the grave, quietly regarding the freshly padded earth. Eventually, it spoke. "You ain't forgotten, T.C. Not by a longshot. That tenderfoot sheriff went too far when he got you killed - somethin' that never woulda happened if I were in charge. But don't worry. He'll get what's comin' to him soon enough."
The figure dropped a white lily onto the grave and walked away. When he was out of sight, J.P. Coleman emerged from behind a wide tree nearby. "So, Nash," he said to himself, "You finally came back." Then, reaching down and collecting the skittering creatures at his feet, he added, "Big mistake."